Garrett’s ‘soul’ inspires students

By Hannah Amante

The Cal Poly Pomona Music Department presented a Soul Music Master Class led by Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter and recording artist Siedah Garrett on April 24. The free event was held in the Music Recital Hall from 6 to 8 p.m.

Garrett’s numerous accomplishments over the years include co-writing the songs “Man in the Mirror” for Michael Jackson’s album “Bad” and “Love You, I Do” for the movie musical “Dreamgirls,” which earned her an Oscar nomination and a Grammy award for Best Song in a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.

She has collaborated with and written songs for many household names in the music industry,such as Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Ella Fitzgerald and Jamie Foxx.

The evening began with Music Industry Studies Professor Mark Chubb, introducing each member of the Kellogg Soul Ensemble, which Chubb directs. He then introduced Garrett, who was sitting in the audience with her manager.

The Kellogg Soul Ensemble played a total of eight songs including one original song written and performed by two members. Each performance was followed by a few minutes of critiques and suggestions from Garrett.

The ensemble opened with “Man in the Mirror” and ended with “Hold On, I’m Coming.”

Garrett sometimes asked members of the ensemble to repeat certain parts of the songs after giving her feedback. She also continuously praised the ability of the ensemble, who previously only had four two-hour once-a-week rehearsals prior to the master class.

“You guys give me energy and enthusiasm,” said Garrett. “I don’t know your individual paths, but I do know that you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you should do more of that.”

After the performances, Garrett went onstage for a question-and-answer session open to the audience.

After the first question, someone in the audience shouted, “Sing!”

Garrett laughed and told the ensemble, “If I sing, you have to sing with me.” The ensemble then joined Garrett for a second performance of “Man in the Mirror,” as the audience cheered.

Garrett answered several questions pertaining to the music industry, her songwriting process, how she got her break and what it was like to work with Michael Jackson. In addition to writing a song for him, she had also sung with him on the track “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and accompanied him on his Dangerous World Tour.

“He made you feel as if he had as much to learn from you as you had from him,” recalled Garrett.

She sprinkled her answers with advice, emphasizing that aspiring musical artists should stay true to themselves, not be discouraged by setbacks and develop a thick skin.

“You never know what opportunities will present themselves,” Garrett said, describing her journey in the industry as being full of unexpected turns.

She also regaled the audience with anecdotes of working with Quincy Jones, who had helped her start her career as a songwriter, even though she had initially set out to be a recording artist.

“You have to be flexible in this business,” Garrett said.

When asked where she finds inspiration to write songs, she said, “Inspiration is everywhere. But you have to have self-discipline, because you won’t have someone looking over your shoulder all the time. You have to be your own monitor. You have to be self-motivated.”

Garrett said that ideas for writing “Man in the Mirror” came from overhearing a telephone conversation during a songwriting session. Two years later, she found the title scribbled in her notebook and wrote the first verse and chorus within 15 minutes.

Garrett also revealed her involvement in the upcoming ABC reality show “Duets,” which features Lionel Richie, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles and Robin Thicke as mentors. Garrett was chosen to be the vocal coach for the contestants and said it was her first time announcing it.

She ended the Q&A by saying she enjoyed her time at CPP.

“Oh my God, this was so much fun, you guys,” she said. “I was just as nervous as you were when I first got here but you all inspire me.”

First-year Mathematics student Rachel Wong was one of the attendees.

“I saw the posters [announcing the event] and was really excited because I like playing and writing songs myself,” Wong said. “I wanted to hear what she had to bring to the table with all of her credentials.”

When asked what she learned from the class, Wong said, “Not to give up. I’ve been discouraged myself a couple of times and I think it’s just inspiring to get the encouragement from professionals you can connect with.”

Music Education student Jaime Rivera, who plays guitar in the ensemble, said it was an honor to play for and with Garrett.

“Probably the best lesson I got reminded of is to always do your best, always,” said Rivera. “And it’s something I keep working on as a growing musician.”

Chubb said he got the idea to invite Garrett to the master class, which is in its fourth year, when she followed him on Twitter. He then contacted her manager, Erik Nuri, after looking him up on Google.

“I never thought she would come,” said Chubb. “I’ve been a big fan of hers from way back.”

Chubb said the songs performed were a preview of an upcoming concert by the Kellogg Soul Ensemble on May 29.

Siedah Garrett accompanies Cal Poly Pomona

Charlina Allen / The Poly Post

Siedah Garrett accompanies Cal Poly Pomona’s Kellogg Soul Ensemble during a rendition of “Man in the Mirror”

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